The Boy and I

The boy followed me in the road, looking at me without embarrassment. It was usually small babies who stared, and they can’t tell what they see. But the boy now walked in front of me, in the dusty road, turning to look. I smiled at his undone shoelaces, and his grubby face.

“Who are you?” He asked.

I stopped and sat at the base of a tree, off the road. “Who do you think I am?” I replied.

He sighed as if I had suddenly placed him in a classroom, and it was an uneasy place to be. He closed his eyes for a while, then opened them and said, “I don’t know, but you’re hiding aren’t you?”

I smiled again. It was interesting to watch his expressions. He didn’t show any fear.

“No, I’m not hiding, but I’m not drawing attention to myself either. Why do you wonder if I’m hiding?”

He thought again for a while then looked down at the dust. “I have to hide sometimes,” he said. “My Ma and Pa aren’t popular around here, and I’m different to the other kids. So I have to hide sometimes. An’ I wondered if you were like that too.”

“Well, maybe in some ways. But I’m wondering something too. I wonder what you can see that makes you ask these questions. As far as I know, I don’t look any different from other folks in general; not unless maybe you look very close.”

“I have to look at people,” he said, looking up at me. “I have to see what they might do if I let them near. I’ve been locked up a few times.”

He stopped speaking. “So?” I prompted.

“So I looked at you as you came along, and I ain’t seen anyone like you before. You’re not a regular person are you?”

“I was born a regular baby,” I said.

“But you’re not regular now,” he replied, getting more confident. “You keep shiftin, and sort of glowin, and I ain’t seen no one like that, except maybe Jeff Handries when I came on him after he climbed out of Mrs. Jefferson’s house, while her husband was away.”

I laughed aloud and reached out to tousle his already untidy hair. “I guess that gets you that way occasionally. Did he look so strange then?”

“Maybe. Not strange, but a crazy smile, as if he was big inside, like a big space, and Jeff Handries didn’t usually look that big. And he wasn’t angry at me being around. He just looked at me as if he could see right into me. Then he smiled some more and walked off.”

“Well, okay, so maybe I’m a bit like Jeff Handries, except I don’t need to visit Mrs Jefferson to feel like that.”

“Why not? What happened?”

“This is my secret,” I said, looking right at him. And like Jeff Handries, I knew he would keep it. “I was born a man, but I let something into me.”

I paused a while because the boy looked at me with such wide eyes, I thought for a moment he was going to fall into me. But he held on, still with a look of amazement.

“I let it in, because it was beautiful, and I was lonely. So it grew in me, and there’s not any me left that is separate to it. I am it — and it is me. But there are lots of us in here living as one — like a big lake, all merged. It is a wonderful thing.”

Then I let what I am shine out of me to the boy. He looked at me for a long time, slowly softening. Then he said in a very gentle tone, “Will you hold me?”

I opened my arms and he comfortably fitted in, and we sat silently as the evening came on.

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